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spikegifted - The "War on Terror"

Richard Perle appearance in ITV's 'Jonathan Dimbleby' (March 28, 2004)

The former chairman of the Pentagon Defence Policy Board, Richard Perle, appeared as a guess speaker in 'Jonathan Dimbleby', a weekly political debate program in the UK. While I don't usually comment on political events, never mind politicians speaking in television programs, why am I making a fuzz about a US politician appearing in a UK program? Firstly, Mr. Perle is, whether officially or unofficially, one of the chief architect of President George W. Bush's foreign/defence policies, especially in the post September 11th world. Second, while he no longer holds any official or formal post in the US administration, he still one of the leading members of neo-Conservative movement in the US. Finally, I believe his views of the world reflect those of great many Americans. For the above reasons, it was particular interesting to watch Mr. Perle publicly defended his government's policy to prosecute its "War on Terror". For many, myself included, Mr. Perle appears to be the chief driver of the neo-Conservative movement in the US politics and his influence, officially or otherwise, on the current US administration cannot be underestimated. In another words, the current US policy towards dealing with global terrorism and, as a result, the US foreign policy are large driven by Mr. Perle and his associates.

September 11, 2001 and its aftermath

That day of infamy will forever be itched on the minds of all those who saw those horrific images, whether in person or via news reports. In pre-September 11 , it is hard for those who are working in the security 'business' to imagine that a terrorist group has the daring and audacity to strike the US in such a manner. Those events were simply acts of evil. There are no other words to describe them. In a world where armed conflict is localized and third parties usually active engage all sides in peace initiatives, it is hard to comprehend why any one group of people has such grievance against another that will use such horrible tactics to strike against the leading country in 'the West'. On the other hand, using good old fashion military strategies, it can be argue that as a group with a significant form state support, attack on the 'enemy' will have to be in 'unconventional forms'.

In any case, in the months following September 11, 2001, there was a global outpour of sympathy towards the US and a general understanding that the instigators of those evil events to be brought to justice. The subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban regime in that country were under an United Nation mandate. While the invasion successfully brought about the fall of a regime that harbored the terrorists, the people (Osama bin Laden and his entourage) responsible the death of thousands in the US were still at large. The US military detained hundreds and thousands of 'enemy combatants' in Afghanistan and many of them were brought to the US military outpost of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, known as Camp X-ray (now renamed Camp Delta). These people are held without any form of legal representation, neither in civil sense nor military. These people are held by the US Department of Defense, without any access to legal counsel and no criminal charges have been filed against them. For more details regarding the legal status of these 'enemy combatants', please refer to the paper by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, The Indefinite Detention of "Enemy Combatants": Balancing Due Process and National Security in the Context of the War on Terror (March 18, 2004), and the petition filed in the Supreme Court of the United States by various human rights organizations (January 2004).

While the US, and the rest of the 'free world', has the right to take steps to defend itself against attacks, it is quite another to pursue military engagements against another country. Furthermore, it stretches the bounds of legality to detain individuals against their will without charge and without legal representation.

Osama bin Laden & Saddam Hussein?

What brings about the events of September 11? Clearly, bin Laden has a history of grievances against the US. This was not the first time he has strike at US targets, previous attacks that have been linked to him and his organization included the first attack against the World Trade Center in New York (bomb in the underground car park, February 1993), the bombing of US embassies in Africa (in Kenya and Tanzania, August 1998) and the against USS Cole off the coast of Yemen (using a gunboat, October 2000). What drives bin Laden's hatred towards the US and 'the West'? His anger stems from the Saudi Arabia's decision to allow the US military to stage attacks against Iraqi forces in Iraq and Kuwait before and during the Gulf War in 1990-91. However, he has network dates back to the Afghan war against the invasion by the Soviet Union. September 11 was ultimately caused by generations of US foreign policies, particularly towards the Middle East. More recently, bin Laden has spoken out about the US and 'the West' continually 'interfering' of politics in the Middle East and other Islam countries, which in turn is viewed by the US as 'securing its national interests'. It is therefore easy to see why there will continue to be clashes between the two.

It is easy to conclude that Saddam is not a nice guy... First of all, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 by Saddam Hussein was an overt act of aggression by a dictator bent on power. Saddam is a ruthless ruler and an uncompromising politician. He initiated the Iran-Iraq War when he tried to capitalize on the vulnerability of the new Islamic Republic of Iran and he used chemical weapons against the Iranians, without regards for the safety of his own troops. He was a ruthless dictator and he ruled by fear. His secret police was feared by his people to the extent that even the most trusted aides, including the members of his own family, were not exempt from their interrogations. In a country with a majority population of Shi'a Muslim, he and the Sunnis minority ruthlessly crushed any ambitions of the Shi'as in gaining a political voice. His treatment of the Iraqi Kurds in the north of the country was made infamous when the rest of the world was informed that he used chemical and biological weapons against unarmed civilians. The level of aggression he and his regime showed in crushing Kuwaitis was horrifying and the subsequent wanton destruction of Kuwaiti properties and oil wells as the army retreated back into Iraq was irresponsible. Moreover, after the defeat of 1991, Saddam continued to defile UN resolutions and played a cat-and-mouse game with weapons inspectors.

While all these events show to the world that Saddam Hussein is not a nice guy, he is no terrorist. Despite all the efforts before and after his fall, there has never been any concrete links establishing his regime with Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda. Islamic terrorists were as much a threat to Saddam's hold on power in a secular Iraq as they are to the world peace. While Saddam has play the 'Islam card' at times in the past (particularly when he knew he was deep trouble with the US/UN), his party and his regime were essentially secular. There were little or no logical links between such a regime with a religious fundamentalist terrorist organization. The invasion of Iraq and the subsequent 'regime change' cannot be related to terrorism and cannot be justified on the simple basis of that 'there could have been weapons of mass destruction', nor can it be considered justified despite the removal of Saddam Hussein.

The "War on Terrorism" cannot simply be a 'knee-jerk' reaction

While most people didn't want to talk about it, but the US's "War on Terrorism" originated back in the Clinton Presidency. During those years, the 'famous' appointment of the 'Drug Czar' who was given the power and authority to coordinate and direct America's "War on Drugs", few people realized that the post of "National Coordinator Against Terrorism" was also created. In effect, this post was the "Counter-terrorism Czar". Why don't people know more about this post? While I'm no bureaucrat in the US, nor am I connected in anyway to the US government or administration at any time, I can guess the reasons were a) it didn't have a significant budget nor real power, unlike the "Drug Czar"; and b) it was not a high priority in the nation's mind. To fight against anything, no least terrorism, requires huge amount of resources - time, money, intellectual power, diligence, man power, etc. It also requires all the stages of carrying out a successful project - detection of problems, identification of the causes/sources of problems, following through of the routes of the problems, formulation of remedies and mitigants, put in place the 'solutions' and finally elimination of the problems. Translate this process into counter-terrorism, it means the agencies/departments involved are required to:

- Recognize that there are terrorists operating in or against your country - if you don't recognize you've a problem, no amount of signals will alert you adequately.
- Identify who are the terrorists or groups of terrorists that you want to eliminate - it's no good saying: "All of them!" You need to deal with them one group at a time.
- Track the suspected terrorists or their groups - bagging a 'foot soldier' is just the first of many steps, you need to know how big the organizations you're dealing with and allocate resources to tackle them.
- Formulate a game plan - figure out who you must take out and how.
- Allocate assets - good quality intelligence is hard to come by and you need to put in place assets to allow useful information to be extracted.
- Bag the problem - Terrorists are on the whole smart people: they are not going to sit there and wait for you to arrest them one by one. When you strike, you take out the whole cell or a big part of an organization.

These are not easy things to do and there’s no magic trick you can perform on these - there’s no hat and there’s no rabbit. It’s all down to clear leadership, unity in direction, meticulous planning, adaptive/flexible organization, fast communication, availability of resources/assets and, last but certainly not least, timely decision making. It is too easy to simply show up at a political function and declare “War on Terror”. It may sound like good sound-bite, but greater the hype/lie/expectation, greater the disappointment. By all accounts, the US response since September 11 has all the signs of a knee-jerk reaction rather than a well thought out, thoroughly planned strategic policy.

On the other hand, a 'knee-jerk' reaction would be result in hitting the most obvious targets, which may or may not the real perpetrators of terror. First of all, the Bush administration has been warned by the intelligence services that an attack was coming prior to the events, yet they claim they don't have intelligence of such. Well, I guess if they are sufficiently convinced that the problem did not exist, no amount of intelligence would have made any difference. We now know that right from the beginning (read: moments after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001), various members the Bush administration have been trying to tie the terror attacks to Iraq and the Saddam regime in Baghdad, despite the complete lack of evidence that provided concrete links between the two camps. Having 'identify' the enemy, the administration went on to try to convince the rest of the world that invading Iraq was a necessary act to prevent further terrorism when there was no link established between the Iraqi regime with terrorism nor were there evidence of weapons of mass destruction. After a quick victory against a depleted enemy, the US failed to secure the country it has invaded and it now becomes a hot-bed for terrorist with daily attacks against the military and civilian targets, foreign and domestic alike.

Instead of solving a global terror problem, the invasion of Iraq has created a local terror problem and inflamed worldwide Arab/Islamic sensitivity. It would appear that post-Saddam Iraq, with all the security problems, has now become the ultimate training ground for al Qaeda terrorists. Instead of solving a problem, the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam may have created a even bigger one for the future.

Israelis vs. Palestinians - who's right? Should it be the case of winners dictating the peace?

One of the major sources of tension in the Middle East and Arab/Muslim hostility against the US is the Israeli/Palestinian problem/impasse. Hostility between Israelis and Palestinians has been non-stop since the failure of the Middle East Peace Process, when Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat failed to reach an agreement in 2000 to settle the Palestinian ‘problem’ once and for all. This led to the ‘second intifada’, Palestinian uprising, which has continued to this day, with increasing polarization between the two camps.

There is no doubt that suicide bombing carried out by Palestinians and other Arabs against Israelis and their properties is very damaging in terms of bring the two sides back to the negotiation table. However, the tactics employed against the Palestinians by the Israelis are no less demeaning. After the election victory which made Ariel Sharon the prime minister for Israel, the country turned its back on the land-for-peace formulas of the 1990s and now favored a tougher approach to Israel's "Palestinian problem". The death toll soared as the Israelis intensified aggressive policies such as assassinating Palestinian militants, air strikes and incursions into Palestinian self-rule areas. In reply, Palestinian militants stepped up suicide bomb attacks in Israeli cities. Since the September 11 attacks in the US and the commencement of President Bush’s ‘War on Terror’, Israelis gained a ‘legitimate’ reason to engage in increasing divisive measures to pursue Palestinian militants - reoccupying parts the Palestinian Self-rule areas, stand-offs against militants/terrorists and assassinations prominent Palestinians. On the other hand, the Palestinians rely in the only way they and the Israelis know how - suicide bombing.

More recently, Israel’s unilateral decision to build a high wall separating the West Bank and Gaza Strip from the rest of Israel while incorporating Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land is the most controversial development in this conflict. Many international agencies spoke out against the move, with the UN condemning it as a form of Israeli attempt to annex additional land as the wall extends far into Palestinian land.

Yet, the US president has given unqualified support of Israel’s extra-judicial assassinations, the Berlin Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories, and endorsement of Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan of pulling out of areas of Palestinian territories but gaining land where Israeli settlements have been built on. The US justify it support for the unilateral plan as it reflects “new realties on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers”.

The continual tension between Palestinians and Jews is a major rally call of Islamic terrorist who point to the US’s support for Israel’s increasing aggressive posture and the need to punish those who have wronged Islam. Even long-time Middle East allies of the US like Jordan and Egypt find America’s support to Israel hard to justify. By ‘choosing a side’, the US has further alienated itself in the Arab world and further provide Islamic extremist reasons to dislike America and the Western world.

To allow peace to return between Israel and Palestine, the US need to readopt policies of neutrality and engagement between the two sides. Publicly humiliating the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is certainly not a way to gain Palestinian trust, nor would publicly endorsing Israeli aggressive policies and ‘siding’ with the Jews. Peace will not only benefit the Israeli and the Palestinians, but also the US, the rest of the Western world and also Arab and other Islam states as the major rallying call for the extremist would be removed. However, it is very difficult to imagine either side is capable of pulling back at this point in time as too much political capital has been invested by both sides and too much blood has been spilt. To achieve any meaningful kind of cease fire between the sides, never mind negotiate a peace, it will take an extraordinary effort by the international community, particularly the US, to intervene.

By siding overwhelming on the Israelis, the US angers many of its Middle East allies who otherwise would be willing to help reach a settlement with the Palestinians. However, by supporting Israel’s ‘land grab’, US’s Middle East allies are immediately suspicious of any US-sponsored peace plan.

Weapons of mass destruction?

One of the reasons for invading Iraq was to ‘disarm’ the country. Aside from the ‘liberating the Iraqi people’ and ‘promoting freedom and democracy’ in the Middle East, this was the biggest reason for the Americans. For the British government’s argument for war, it was the linchpin.

There was rightly suspicion of Saddam’s regime hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). After all, the Iraqi regime has spent the previous 12 years playing hide ‘n seek with UN weapons inspectors. Given Saddam’s track record, some degree of pressure would be required to force his regime to comply. However, are we right to simply follow ‘past form’ and determine our present and future policies simply by because of someone’s behavior in the past?

Given the massive military presence of troops from US, UK and other countries, it would be inconceivable that should Saddam possessed WMDs, they could not found. The former chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, suggested that there was no WMDs in Iraq at the beginning of hostility. David Kay, the man appointed as the head of the ‘Iraq Survey Group’, whose responsibility was to tour the occupied country to find WMDs, resigned when the interim report of the group was published and suggested that pre-war intelligence on Iraqi WMDs was wrong. Given that these two people probably know about as much as there is about WMDs in Iraq and how to find them, it would be strange for them to give public statements suggesting such devices did not exist, if there was any.

Many people pointed at the presentation at the UN Security Council given by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and insisted that the evidence given then gave weight to the argument that WMDs existed in Iraq. However, given the exhaustive searches before and after the war, it is difficult not to suggest that the intelligence was wrong or the wrong conclusion was derived from the intelligence. Some people suggested that Saddam simply had moved the WMDs to neighboring countries to avoid discovery and capture. This argument does not hold water since no country surrounding Iraq would want to accept such weapons. There are only six countries sharing boarders with Iraq and each and every one of them would have reasons not to accept them - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran saw Saddam with a lot of suspicion; Turkey and Jordan are West-leaning. The only possibility was Syria. Would Syria wanted Iraqi WMDs just to save Saddam’s neck? Highly unlikely.

Moreover, if there was any weapons or active weapons program in place prior to invasion, there would be evidence of weapons precursors and agents, but none has been found.

The spread of nuclear weapon technologies

At one point, it was feared that Iraq was trying to acquire fissile material to build a nuclear device. As events turned out, it was simply allegations. There was no evidence to support the claim and it was quietly forgotten. Since the 1991 Gulf War, the UN has successfully dismantled the Iraqi nuclear program and there was no evidence of it being revived by the regime. However, that fact was largely ignored by the US and the UK in their ‘case for war’. The argument of invading Iraq and toppling Saddam was to prevent the spread of nuclear technologies to the terrorist groups. Given the suppose link between the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda, this was not a difficult conclusion. However, the fixation with Iraq’s alleged crimes result in ignoring or not pursuing other possible candidates who have such technologies for sale to those who desire them.

Nuclear weapon technologies were being spread. More troublesomely, the source was not one from the ‘axis of evil’ but an ‘ally’ in the ‘war on terror’ - Pakistan! In effect, sale of nuclear technologies was happening right under the noses of those who want it stopped. It turned out that the 'father' of the Pakistani nuclear program has, for years, been giving/selling nuclear weapons technologies to Iran, Libya and North Korea. All kinds of public pressure has been applied to Iran and North Korea to 'come clean' about their programs, particularly from the Americans. Not surprisingly, both countries have not open up or even suggested that they'd stop their nuclear developments. On the other hand, Libya, after being persuaded by the British, gave up its nuclear program and agreed to international weapons inspection.

That says two things to me: 1) Forcing countries to admit to 'wrong doing' and humiliating them internationally will not produce the desired result or disarmament and 2) Behind-the-scene talks with some 'sweeteners' will allow countries to give up their 'strategic' position but still come out feeling triumphant. The US's batter-ramp technique in international politics has not produced any desirable results, but instead polarized international opinions.

The US as the 'world policeman'

As the sole remaining 'super power' in the world, the US has more responsibility now than ever when it comes to maintaining the peace and upholding security. However, given the difficulties of the tasks and the diverse opinion as to how to achieve these objectives, it is considered unwise to attempt to obtain results by unilateral action. There are places in the world that are oppressed and miserable, but 'exporting' democracy to these places may not be the answer. While there are countries and regimes which try to achieve international recognition by aggression and acquisition of illegal weapons and technologies, public showdowns with these non-aligned states may not be the simple answers the dreamers are hoping for.

We live in a world that is not perfect - there are aggressive rulers who waste their countries' national resources to achieve military strength to threaten their neighbors. While it is not always possible to prevent them from doing so, there are mechanisms out there to contain and disarm these aggressive states. Unilateral military action should be the last option for the very existence of the United Nations is to bring together opinions and to forge a common action. The Charter of the United Nations clearly states that "to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest". The argument presented by the US prior to the invasion of Iraq suggested that the UN Security Council, by not agree with immediate military action against Saddam, had made itself irrelevant. Such suggestion is rather strange as the US and the UK and their allies were the minority in favor of war in the Security Council, yet the majority was considered irrelevant. Back in 1991, when Iraqis marched across the boarder and occupied Kuwait, the UN gave its blessing to immediate military assistance to protect Saudi Arabia and ultimately the liberation of Kuwait. When the situation requires a military response, the UN Security Council can act decisively and collectively to authorize military action. Iraq in 2003 was not such a situation.

There are some places in the world that people are living in oppressed environments - Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, Palestine, Sudan, etc, to name a few. There are also lots of countries where their citizens do not have fundamental human rights: China being the most obvious one. Yet, there are countries where things appears to be going well, but yet under the surface, there are all kinds of problems. Many Middle Eastern countries fit into this category and many of them are friendly towards the US. There are countries that have been defiance to UN Security Council resolutions for many years, like Israel - who happens to be the chief ally to the US in the Middle East. Why doesn't the US administration choose to do something unilaterally about these injustices and 'deliver' democracy to others? I don't want to suggest policies being pursued by George W. Bush's administration is anything but looking after the interest of the US, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that Iraq has the potential to be one of the largest oil producers in the world and that the US's decision to invade Iraq was partially motivated to 'secure' a source of 'cheap oil' to serve its own goals.

A policeman is suppose to be unemotional and just. The role of a policeman is suppose to be gather the evidence against a suspect and bring the criminal to justice. The role of a policeman is not suppose to be combined with judge, jury and executioner. That is the role of the UN Security Council, not any particular state, who happens to have the military muscle to bully another.

My personal opinion on how to move forward

It is my personal view that the US, through many generations of administrations, has failed at every decision regarding the Middle East, at every level. It has been a failure in understanding: self-interest has clouded judgment and the 'big picture'. It has been a failure of policy: at each decision point, without fully understanding the whole situation and its long-term implications, the US has incrementally made, individual and collectively, Middle Eastern Arab states more and more difficult to work with. It has been a failure of intelligence: the primary intelligence agencies were still looking to deal with threats dated back from the Cold War, rather than expanding resources to fight against global terrorism. And finally, it has been a failure in diplomacy: in the eyes of those who were against the invasion of Iraq, the opinion of the US has sunk to a low. 

Understanding - If the US wants to maintain a credible role in international politics in ways other than the one who has the muscle to bulldoze others, it has to have an understanding the concerns and motivations of others around world. Not everyone thinks like a 'typical' American and not every country conducts its affairs like the US. The world is a diverse place and there is no such thing as 'the right way'. There are lots of cultural subtleties, historical influences and local customs that an 'outsider' without thorough understanding will missed. You cannot 'steamroll' culture, tradition and history like Hollywood movies tend to. To fully understand means 'engagement' at every level, not just on the surface. While it may be true in most places, not everyone worships the power of money, not everyone accepts the benefits of trade and not everyone has the same notion of 'freedom'. While there are undoubtedly many in the US government who understand the Middle East and places outside 'the West', there are doubts regarding there is such level of understanding institutionally.

Policy - As I have stressed before, I have never been an employee of any part of the US government or administration, so I've no direct understanding of the inner workings of the US policy making organs. However, my view from the outside is such that there is no consistent policy from one period to another. An inconsistent policy is worse than no policy. One of the reasons for al Qaeda's hatred for the US is its 'meddling' in Middle Eastern politics. While such view may not been true in intention, for the terrorist it makes no difference. For too long a time, the US, being a dominant force against Soviet/Communist forces around the world, has been in a position to simply say 'jump' and its allies or those who want to gain favor from the US would ask 'how high' and diligently cooperate with it. That is not the basis of a foreign policy that reflects fairness or cooperation. It is a policy that breeds hatred and resentment. In order to eliminate the threat of terror to both 'the West' and to the Middle East, both sides have to work together and work with each other. These can only be achieved through thorough understanding of the needs and fears of the partners, not simply based on the US's national interest.

Intelligence - From what I can gather from the Butler Report on the use of intelligence to justify the UK's case for war against with Iraq and the Iraq Survey Group's interim report on the search of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the intelligence available which was used to justify the war was woefully thin and what was available was stretched to, and even beyond, the limits of credibility. What were the reasons that these foremost intelligence agencies in the world could not put together enough evidence to convincingly and conclusively tell their political masters about WMDs in Saddam's Iraq? Good quality intelligence, or the lack of. Moreover, the publication of the US Senate 9/11 Commission report showed that someone in the intelligence agencies were doing their jobs, just that these people's voices were not listened to. I believe since the end of the Cold War, both US and British intelligence services have increasingly depended on technological advances to substitute basic human intelligence work on the ground. Eavesdropping is not the same as knowing with confidence and the resultant intelligence was inconclusive which in turn became vulnerable to interpretation by those who want to exaggerate the case for war. Referring to the evil events of September 11, 2001, it was clear that there was intelligence on the possible attacks, but the various agencies simply failed to talk to each other and the administration failed to act on possible leads. Additionally, there were warnings from within the administration, notably Richard Clarke, these were ignored. If only the Bush administration listened to the warning from the likes of Clarke and directed the various agencies to 'look out' for any signs of activities, the 9/11 attack may not have got off the ground.

Diplomacy - The spat between the US/UK led coalition and 'old Europe', who did not back military action against Saddam, opened a gulf between NATO allies. While I don't know for sure, as there are no reports of any open disagreements, but I would imagine that there are countries in the Arab world that are not entirely happy with the pressure applied to them before, during and after the war with Iraq. Europeans and Arab are proud people and they don't like being told what to do. While the arguments between Western states are cases of difference in emphasis, the difficulties with Arab/Muslim states may run deeper. Diplomacy cannot be a one way street - it is suppose to be a process of give and take. Moreover, I am curious as to the extent that the US administration has engaged opposition groups within its Middle Eastern allies to encourage friendly relationships. Politics can be a fast changing business and it is not entirely out of questions that the politics of another Middle Eastern state suddenly changes, like Iran back in 1979. In the current fight against global terrorism, the US and the West require all the cooperation the Arab and Muslim world can afford to give us. The old method of 'putting pressure' on other countries may not work in the future as the politicians and rulers of countries may have their own vested interest to look after. A better way of engaging all parties has to be found.

In my humble opinion, I feel that the current 'War on Terror' has a long way to go before the threat of terrorism can be considered significantly reduced. I'm talking about years or decades of hard work, rather than months or a few years, by all those involved. This is not a problem that will go away. It is not a case of simply preventing a few operatives getting to a position to attack - it has to be dealt with at source. These all points to a different way of thinking about international relationships, diplomacy, intelligence and national policies. It cannot be a knee-jerk reaction, but a thorough and strategic plan to engage and involve all affected parties. We cannot allow the current foolhardy methods to continue.

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